by Heba Yosry
Friday, 20
August 2021

How feminism failed in Afghanistan

The US intervention tried to do too much, too soon
by Heba Yosry
Afghan women are being concealed once more. Credit: Twitter/@LNajafizada

The world watched this week as images of women were painted over on beauty parlours in Kabul. The symbolism was impossible to miss. After twenty years of limited — though steadily increasing — freedoms, the concealment of the women of Kabul, and Afghanistan, had resumed.

After the Taliban announced that it will respect women’s rights “in accordance with Islamic law” on Wednesday, a woman was reportedly killed for not wearing a burqa and another was beaten to death in front of her four children for refusing to cook for them. Women for the Taliban are the first target for enforced isolation, silencing and extreme violence. Women are central to the Taliban’s theocratic vision. They are the first to be subjugated. If they can coerce, terrorise and control women, the rest of the population will follow.

Afghan women were central to the US policy too — an astonishing US government report from February 2021 shows just how central. The Americans pursued a strategy of “gender mainstreaming” in the country, a suite of policies that aimed to empower Afghan women. Quotas were introduced that guaranteed a set number of women in parliament; rural councils, likewise, were balanced by gender. The US sent “gender advisors” to the country; they attempted to integrate women into the Afghan army; training centres, housing, child care centres, gyms, dining facilities, and bathrooms were all built for women. And Afghan men were enlisted to the gender mainstreaming cause — US programs gave “trainings to 1,105 Afghan men in which they could discuss their own gender roles and examine male attitudes that are harmful to women.” One initiative was called the “National Masculinity Alliance”.

So what went wrong? The report details numerous pitfalls such as; building schools that were left empty because parents wanted their kids to herd sheep, the lack of a Dari and Pashto translation for “gender equality”, a culture of sexual harassment among parliamentarians, and the restricted mobility that hinder women from public participation to name a few. Women remained a priority for the US but not for Afghanistan.

Women’s rights continued to be viewed by many as a foreign notion that was introduced by invaders to sully women’s honour and distract them from their divinely determined duties inside the home. To these people, the concept of women’s rights belongs to the secular sphere that the infidel West was trying to impose upon a deeply conservative and religious country. The Taliban see their role as rectifying the behaviour of their people who were tempted by the devil.

The US tried to switch Afghan women into Western-style feminism — a dream that dissipated because it wasn’t grounded in Afghan or Muslim reality. A focus on gradually revising religious discourse and allowing for a more tolerant understanding of Islam might have yielded more sustainable results — sadly we will now never know.

Join the discussion

  • Excellent analysis. Such a pleasure to read an informed piece, in contrast to the ‘who’s to blame for letting the Afghan people down?’ we are getting from the MSM.

  • US programs gave “trainings to 1,105 Afghan men in which they could discuss their own gender roles and examine male attitudes that are harmful to women.” One initiative was called the “National Masculinity Alliance”.

    So what went wrong?

    sounds Orwellian.
    Good piece. But we just don’t seem to learn do we. We seem so absolutely sure of a set of values that we, in fact, adopted only recently, that we think everybody else is just queueing up to adopt them.
    Or worse – trying to impose on the Afghanis an ideology which the majority of people in the west don’t believe in either!

  • What an excellent piece! Let’s hope that the USA in particular and the West in general can learn from their mistakes (only a few) and actively seek and find other countries to invade in the name of gender equity and nation building.
    Nigeria might be one, as girls in some regions seem to be suppressed when they are not kidnapped. A robust contingent from Moral Superpower Sweden would get the job done! Perhaps Greta will go too and hector the locals about the dangers of global warming, how their parents have failed them…. Iran is another candidate, and the West has more experience in all things Iranian. Perhaps Norway can send willing women to impose (is that the right word?) progressive Western values on a willing (unwilling?) local populace. Doesn’t matter, as only good intentions count, and moral relativism isn’t a good thing….until it is. Think FMG.
    Let’s hope that NeoCons or the NeoWoke are hard at work in Washington DC, looking for other, perhaps slightly less problematic countries to invade, to build new nations, and to release unicorns and rainbows while the world holds hands!

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